Considering the cult of celebrity

September 9, 2008

When I met Chris Pirillo for the first time at Gnomedex, I apologized for not getting down on my knees and doing the hero worshiping thing, because (as I told him) I both suck at it and I’m not the least bit interested in doing so. The context of the comment was meant to be humorous, but the content itself was accurate: I don’t do hero worshiping, and I’m bad at pretending to.

Now Chris Pirillo perhaps deserves some hero worshiping, if only for remaining a down to earth, normal guy who finds it hard to go to the shitter without 2000 people asking for details on his live stream (he also runs a kickass conference). But many others don’t deserve it. In overcoming heritage media, and falsely constructed ideals of celebrity delivered to us by marketing machines, we have only created new heroes, instead of abandoning the idea altogether.

It doesn’t sit well with me. Both that collectively we blindly hero worship the flawed, or even that some should seek to place me on a similar pedestal.

I’ve written previously that I don’t do “celebrity pictures,” or as a so nicely put it, I’m not a camera whore. I’ve met many “famous” people along my path to the point in time. When I worked at the WACA I’d met or spoken to, briefly or sometimes longer, most of the Australian Cricket Team, many who wanted tickets to the members and were told to come and see me. In my years in politics, I’ve pissed next to the then Prime Minister, watched at close quarters the then Treasurer get so ratfaced he couldn’t deliver his speech without slurring his words. I’ve shaken hands at one stage or another with most of the Cabinet, and I’d even fought over policy at conferences with guys who went on to become senior ministers. I’ve sat in a car, drunk with, or emailed a good portion of the past Liberal leaders in Western Australia. Can I say though, for all this name dropping, I wasn’t on a first name basis with most of these people, where as she who must be obeyed was on the politics side.

In tech, I’ve flirted around the edges of the fame game, having shook hands with guys like Kevin Rose and Mark Zuckerberg, and probably a whole pile of other people as well.

Guess what: sorry to be crude, but I just don’t give a shit about having met them.

They are all people, flawed people who through a combination of skill, luck and often ruthlessness and pure personal drive, have succeeded.

At some stages in the past, I’ve been called an “A-List” blogger, although this has tended to be seasonal, given that I was on the B-List for a long time. It wasn’t enough for me to get a speaking gig at the Blog World Expo, so it may not count for much 🙂 But more seriously, there is little difference between me and most bloggers. Where I am today has as much to do with luck, beer, and pure stupidity as it does with skill. Lets see: I was indecisive about what to blog about in 2002, so I decided to blog about blogging before anyone else was, and it just happened to be the right place, right time. On a whim, I sent out an email that ended up resulting in b5media. I was on a non-compete and had no idea what I was going to do next when Arrington emailed me, probably because after the Natalia Del Conte thing, no one in their right minds would have worked at TechCrunch at that time. I could have stayed at TechCrunch (before things turned sour, which was 1 month after I left..before then I was always a loyal and dutiful 110% team member), and asked Arrington for more money, or better still, some equity in TechCrunch that he boasted in the press that everyone who worked for him got, but was never extended to me. I’m sure she who must be obeyed would have preferred that I would have done that, but instead, I picked a completely unproven mix on a blog, with a smallish budget, and hoped for the best, when I could have picked any specific vertical and would have probably been delivering 3x as many page views today (indeed more if I’d gone into celeb blogging f/t).

I am completely and utterly insane, with some serious luck thrown in for measure.

I’d lie that there weren’t times where I have found the attention flattering, and that there have been some great times along the way. And yet I’m really not any different to most people I meet.

I laugh sometimes when people meet me in person and say things along the lines of “I didn’t know what you’d be like in person, but you’re really not that bad/ ok.” I shouldn’t laugh, it scares me that people could think that.

And yet, sometimes leading has a positive side. In my Blog Herald days, my best moments were when people emailed me and said that I’d inspired them to start blogging. I have no idea how many people that holds true for, but even if it was 5 people, that’s 5 people I gave the gift of blogging to. I take great joy today when people say that they’ve tried Disqus because I’m using them, and that they’re seeing more comments on their blogs, or to the companies I wrote about at TechCrunch, who used my post as a springboard to greater things. I feel a need to inject realism into debates, pointing out to many in the echochamber that there is a world outside Web 2.0…whether they take it onboard is another thing. I’ve done a dozen speaking gigs or more in the last 2 years, where I’ve tried to share the gift of social media to others, and afterwards people have come up and said that hearing me speak has inspired them to try. That’s the good side of attention.

Perhaps we do need leaders, heroes, champions. But there is a line, one between respect/ inspiration and false idolatry. I’m never going to handle fame, on any extent well, but god help me if it ever goes to me head. If there is one message I can deliver: you can do it to. I’m proof positive that it can be done 🙂

20 responses to Considering the cult of celebrity

  1. Two Words. Lesbian Cat.
    …ok, maybe more. Duncan, you are amazing. I admire your honesty and the ability to always keep it real. You're a phenomenal leader and I'm sure I am not the only one who appreciates your involvement with us 'nobodies' in the FF community. Thank you, for being you.

    See you in FF land,

  2. Mona, first you're not a nobody, you're a FF star who is massively popular in ways I can only dream of.
    Second: I love the community at FF, real people, diverse range (not just tech), I can see myself growing old and participating. I don't care what people say about Twitter (and it can rock), but FF is the best

  3. Duncan – In no ways am I a 'star' or 'popular'. I'm all about actually 'socializing' in Social Media. I love diverse conversations with digressive tendencies and gathering / gaining knowledge from people world wide. And FF is the one place with an established community on the Internet, where who you are, who you know, where you're from makes no difference. Like you, I think FF IS the best. 🙂

  4. I don't have anything to say as poignant as Mona's Lesbian Cat, but I do have to say that it is great to see a post like this. Too often we fall into the trap of either participating in sycophancy or ego complexes.

  5. Some great points. Whether or not the false idolatry will start to ease off a bit – and people, especially in digital media, will stop being famous for being famous, I think it's important that these folk use their position to actually do something meaningful.

  6. nice writing, thanks for this.

    about people we know as famous, to whatever degree, it is great when we realize that they are normal and just like us …. except for something indefinable, whether we call it luck or karma, or working a little harder, or a better talk/do ratio.

    good luck. keep writing. go deep.

    gregory lent

  7. anybody can use any position to do something meaningful … no need to wait for others.

  8. Oh good. I feel better then. I had proposed what I thought was an awesome session for Blog World and got turned down and have been feeling downright pissy about it. I forgot it was all about who you know and not what you know or what you are interested in. Thanks for the reminder. I should quit submitting ideas to these things. No one gives a rat's ass about anything but who you are, and I'm with you in not caring, only with even less tact.

  9. Great post Duncan, but it begs the question: who do you see as your heroes, or the folk you genuinely look up to in the industry (note I didn't say “web 2.0”, heh)?

  10. Great post!!! This is the best post I have ever read since I started reading Tech and others blogs. You seem to be the only blogger capable to post about the latest advancements in tech, the latest gossip news, and still have the critical realism to grasp that there is a world outside the blogosphere and the internet. You surprised me when you post about “furious” rail commuters in Argentina, you surprised me even more when you decided not to install google's chrome, reminding us that we still have the right to choose, and that I don't have to go after the latest tech- toy only because it is google-related and the entire blogosphere is writing about that. As you said in your post you don't like the ideals of celebrity, but let me tell you, in south America, without a laptop, without IPhone, without broadband access; only with a desktop PC, using my job Internet connection, working hours and resources ( and still being productive?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ J), you have a fan. Thanks for all the posts Ducan, The Inquisitr rules!!!

  11. Duncan, good stuff. The question really remains as to what a celebrity is? To many people, celebrity means different things. The fact of the matter is that you are only a celebrity to me if you are down to earth and can take the time to acknowledge my existence. If not, what good are you to me and your many other “fans.”

    Jeremy does ask a great question… who are your heroes?

  12. Kinda not sure what to say, other than I thought my site was going to be under the “camera whore” link. I mean that in a non-narcissistic way. I'm supremely pissed off that it wasn't, but… eh, you can make it up to me the next time we meet. By then, I'll be namedropping with the best of 'em! Oh, did you see my tweet about who I had lunch with the other day? It was amazing, and you weren't there.

    You're in this for the right reasons, and for that reason… you'll continue to succeed. You may live down under, but you're on top in my book. Not that I would know if you happen to be someone who likes it on… nevermind. I'm outta here. Gotta find a place with more ego.

  13. whether they take it onboard is another thing. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve done a dozen speaking gigs or more in the last 2 years, where I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve tried to share the gift of social media to others, and afterwards people have come up and said that hearing me speak has inspired them to try. That?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s the good side of attention.

  14. Some nice points. Thanks for sharing.

  15. A very interesting posted Duncan.

  16. Celebrity Gossip is essentially just that gossip, whether you are talking about a celebrity or your friend gossip is just gossip. Nothing good comes of it and is basically made for entertainment.

  17. Chris Pirillo is definitely the celebrity of the geeks. LOL!

  18. It's great post! Tottally agree to it.

  19. Thanks! We're very excited and humbled to see so many people writing in asking us to study their conditions. Happy and honored to be a part of this and work towards ending suffering. Thank YOU for thinking and blogging about this.